Art and the Transpersonal
Whenever we look at a work of art, we have to make some meaning of it. Even if it’s just to say it’s a work of art, or perhaps that you don’t even think it is art. Any meaning we make of anything, anything at all, is just what our brain is doing. That's not saying that consciousness is explained by the brain. Rather, it's to say that what the brain is capable of doing, is limited. And it represents not what consciousness is, but the limited condition of our consciousness, as human beings. And it is sometimes something of what is beyond this limited condition, that art strives to be about.
Everything, absolutely everything, insofar as we can ever know or experience it as human beings, is part of the play of consciousness, as it is delivered through our brain. To recognise anything at all, or to see any meaning it at all, is to cognize it, in some way. And everything we cognize, as human beings, as human intelligence, has to be made sense of, through the working of the brain, which means we have to to in some way fit it into patterns of perception and understanding that already exist in us. It is us, making something recognisable, out of what we encounter.
It’s not something we personally choose to do, it’s just what the brain does. When we see a dog, or the image of a person, in a cloud formation, this is precisely what the brain is doing, and that’s visual pareidolia. It’s a well-known, well recognised facet of our psychology. The brain will always tend to fill-in missing information, to make what we encounter, into something we recognise. Or it will fit what is encountered, into some structure or pattern of thought and understanding that already exists, so that we can make sense of it. Unless we are more conscious in that moment, enough to see this tendency, and what is happening, we just go along with it, and accept it as it is. Our brain is constantly trying to make sense of what we encounter. And it’s not just a question of making visual sense of what we see.
It happens in what we hear, in what we taste, in what we smell, in what we feel, and in what we think. It happens in what we emote. It happens all the time, in everything. And it’s different in everybody, which is why everyone’s interpretation of the world is different. Because the precise functioning of everyone’s brain is different. And invariably, people tend to think that all this experience is of the world as it is, and not merely the way their brain is working. If we cognize our world at all, if we cognize our relationships, our experiences, when we cognize anything, it’s actually cognitive pareidolia. There isn’t anything here, in this entire world of ours, that isn’t pareidolia in one way or another. Because it is all made by the brain, and our experience of it is all just the working of the brain, fitting what we encounter into what is already known, already believed in, or already expected.
But human beings, being what they are, are convinced that they are living in, and perceiving a world around them, that is separate from their self, and not merely a product of the way their brain is working. Most people remain absolutely rigidly convinced of this, rigidly convinced in the reality of the world, as a thing separate from their self, and that their thoughts and emotions are explained by this world. And of course, if that’s the case, you can’t possibly be responsible for your own thoughts and emotions. That’s why, to the degree that we are responsible, the pareidolia disappears, we see-through it, and we begin to see the world as it is, as a mirror, or perhaps a shadow, of something higher. How the artist sees the world, is somewhere on the spectrum between personal cognitive pareidolia, and a view of the world that is out of the ordinary, because it is beyond the domain of ordinary cognizance.
In actuality, everything is the play of consciousness we are being as human beings, as it is expressed through the principle of the brain. But the brain doesn’t create who we are. Our true identity when we discover it, is the unconditional consciousness of the Being we are, and it is this that we are coming to know through this play of being as a human self, through all this phenomena of experience that is precisely what art represents, or speaks of. The play of consciousness of the Being we are, is in no way limited to this play of experience of being that is provided through the principle of the brain - our experience of being in the body-mind. When we engage in art, either in its creation or appreciation, we may be acknowledging that.
When you see a work of art, for most people, the chances are, you will see it through this pareidolia of the body-mind. The brain will interpret it through your pre-existing notion that you are a person, a being that you don’t really understand, inhabiting a world that is a reality separate from your self. In other words, you will see it personally. And it may well be that the work of art has been created by a mind similar to yours, in this respect. But of course, this isn’t always necessarily the case. Many artists depict or communicate aspects of this play of being in which we are all engaged, that is above the personal. Even a portrait of a person that communicates deep aspects of their emotional self, will be more powerful if it’s communicated through some degree of transpersonal intelligence in the artist.
People who think that the universe is personal, think that the deepest understanding of human emotionality comes through personal empathy. They think compassion and empathy are the same thing. But they are two different words, because they are not the same thing. The greatest artistic communication of human emotion isn't necessarily a display of empathy. The great artists in their work display a transpersonal level of intelligence in what they are doing, and although they may be masters of technique, the reason their work is more than mastery of technique, is because they are engaged in something that is more than merely personal. Despite this, some art interpreters take it for granted that the depth meaning that works of art display are aspects of the artist’s personal life. Of course artists may put aspects of their own life into their work, but the function of this in the creative process, just as it is in art as a therapy, is as a medium, it isn’t about personalising the meaning of our lives, and thinking that that is the deepest understanding of it.
Some of the greatest art, and even much art that will never become famous, is associated with catharsis. Catharsis is part of a greater process in the awakening of our consciousness to the realisation of who we really are. The creation of art does not always come from stability and joy, but often from personal meltdown. Mental illness, which has not infrequently been associated with genius in artists (and some scientists too), is one aspect of personal meltdown. It is often assumed that personal meltdown is healed by re-formulating the person, and less often recognised that personal meltdown is actually part of a process that at some stage becomes inevitable simply because the true nature of our being is not personal. So personal meltdown can also be a stepping stone in the discovery of the true nature of our being. Expressions of art that come through this process, are essentially a channelling of aspects of our being beyond the personal, where the consciousness and being we truly are, is higher and more creative than anything that appears through the limited principle of the brain.
All art is created through the brain, and all art is seen and encountered through the brain. Our world, with all its beauty, and all its fascination, and all its trouble, is created by the brain. We are caught in this play of being, fascinated by it, and mostly convinced that this is what life is. The spectrum of artistic creation that we engage in, within this play of being created by the brain, is a spectrum that stretches towards the transpersonal. And from there, there is the recognition that this life of forms as we know it, with its multiple personal beings, isn’t the extent of what life is. And that what is here, and what goes on here, the beauty in it, the tension in it, and everything about it that art may or may not depict, is a play in the shadow of a greater reality, which is something art can be very good at communicating. The real depth of art is not a matter of aesthetics. Art has an inner secret, when it does, that is a mirror into the secrets behind our existence.